Below the Line

Phone-hacking trial: No cover up, just 'damage limitation', Rebekah Brooks tells court

By James Doleman |

March 12, 2014 | 7 min read

    Court: Evidence concerning publicist Max Clifford was heard

  • Brooks denies "cover up" on phone-hacking
  • Explains conduct as "damage limitation"
  • Former editor completes evidence after 13 days in witness box
  • When the trial resumed after lunch, Rebekah Brooks' defence QC, Jonathan Laidlaw, rose to re-examine his client, telling the court he only had seven issues to cover. He began by asking Brooks about her character "in a legal sense" and Brooks confirmed that although she had been arrested once, over a domestic incident with her then husband Ross Kemp, she had no criminal convictions,

    Defence counsel then asked about Brooks' evidence that she had once paid a public official for a story about Saddam Hussein planning to smuggle anthrax into the UK in perfume bottles. Brooks confirmed the civil servant concerned was later arrested under the Official Secrets Act.

    The next issue raised by Laidlaw was Brooks' account of two News of the World articles about Sophie Wessex, wife of Prince Edward. The court was shown a page from convicted phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire's notebook which contained the Wessex name and was dated between the two stories. The lawyer asked the jury to note that the page in the notebook contained no telephone number or PIN code.

    Brooks' QC then discussed the cross-examination of Brooks over the interception of the voicemails of murdered teenager Milly Dowler. He quoted a statement Brooks made in 2012 in which she said she had "no special interest" in the Dowler case and asked if this was still her position. Brooks said it changed in 2011 when she found out Dowler's phone had been hacked. Laidlaw asked the witness to look back to 2002 and asked if she had been told by police that they believed Dowler's father may have been involved in her disappearance. The defendant said her reporters had received "off the record briefings" to that effect.

    The next subject raised by the defence was about the relationship in 2002 between Brooks and her then deputy editor, Andy Coulson. Laidlaw asked the witness if Coulson, or anyone else, had ever told her about the hacking of Dowler's phone. Brooks said they had not and said she would never have approved of it even if it was Coulson who was involved.

    Laidlaw then moved on to the evidence Brooks had given about a hearing of phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire in 2007. He asked if the defendant had ever seen a copy of the transcript of the judge's sentencing remarks. Brooks said she had never seen that or any other verbatim record of the judge's comments nor did she recall being informed of the "confiscation order" against Mulcaire as part of his sentence.

    The next topic raised in re-examination was the subject of News International's email deletion policy. Brooks' counsel reminded the defendant that the prosecution had suggested that the defendant had attempted to manipulate this process to hide evidence and this had only been thwarted by the company's legal department. Brooks confirmed that as CEO she was the person who "signed off" the section of the policy that called for all emails that might "involve litigation" to be kept, no matter how "compromising" they turned out to be. The defendant told the court that she always meant these to be kept even when she asked the IT department for a "clean sweep" of emails.

    The next issue raised by the defence QC was the prosecution's claim that a £1m contract with publicist Max Clifford was a "gift" to have him drop his civil claim against the News of the World for intercepting his voicemails. Brooks agreed one motive in the deal was to stop Clifford "humiliating" the company in court, but she also thought the deal made commercial sense due to the quality of the stories he could bring to the Sun. Brooks told the court that she believed subsequent events showed the deal with Clifford was "good value for money". Brooks denied this represented a "cover up", calling it instead "damage limitation".

    Judge Saunders then intervened, telling the witness that the prosecution suggestion was that she would only have participated in the "damage limitation", in particular meeting Clive Goodman to offer him a job after his release from prison is she was involved in phone hacking herself. Brooks said she was "loyal to the company" which had promoted her since she "started out with nothing". As "everyone was getting angry and I was diplomatic, I thought I could help," she said. "At no stage until late 2011 did I have any concerns that Glenn Mulcaire had been accessing voicemails while I was editor of the News of the World," she told the court.

    The defence barrister then moved on to texts between the defendant and former Prime Minister Tony Blair from the two days before her arrest on 17 July 2011. Brooks said she had seen them at the time but had not been shown them again until given a file by the prosecution last Thursday. The QC had the jury given copies of two further text messages from Sunday 10 July 2011 downloaded from the same phone. The first was from Brooks' personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, saying Joel Klein, a senior executive at News International, had called and Brooks should call him back. The second text was from Brooks' mother telling her "Cheryl has just left". This, Laidlaw suggested, showed that Brooks and Carter had not met that day.

    After 13 days on the stand, Rebekah Brooks' evidence was complete. Court therefore adjourned until tomorrow.

    All of the defendants deny all of the charges, the trial continues.

    Click here to view more posts from The Drum's daily phone-hacking trial coverage straight from the Old Bailey

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